Born on 24
October 1868 at 34 Gipps Street, East Melbourne, the son of Charles Johnston
and Elizabeth née Jameson; after his education he worked in the
family business. In 1887 he joined the Victorian Field Artillery as a
gunner and two years later he gained a commission as a lieutenant. And like
fellow Boer War veteran, Edwin Tivey (q.v.), prior to enlisting for
overseas service in 1899, Johnston was an elected representative with the
Fitzroy City Council (1896-99). Assigned as a Special Service Officer, he
was attached with the 62nd Battery, Royal Field Artillery joining the unit
at Modder River and after initially being assigned for instructional duties,
soon proved himself a valuable officer and fought in operations in the
Orange Free State culminating in the advance on Bloemfontein in March 1900.
The Australian war correspondent, said of Johnston: “Captain Johnston would
do us credit - nobody, indeed, could be better chosen - if achievement
depended only on looking well, and I cannot say that of all our
campaigners. In addition, he has provided himself a hard-goer, fearless,
enduring, capable. All-round, a first-class artillery officer”. Invalided
to Australia with fever, in March 1902 he re-enlisted as temporary
lieutenant-colonel in charge of the Victorian raised 4th Battalion,
Australian Commonwealth Horse - the same unit a young Private
James Newland (q.v.) served with. In August 1914, commanding the 2nd Field
Artillery Brigade, his 4th Battery unit landed the first 18-pounder
field-gun at Anzac Cove on the day of the fatal landing, not an easy
achievement considering the rugged terrain; ‘Johnston’s Jolly’ (at Lone
Pine) meaning to jolly up the Turks was named after him. For a short
period, he temporarily commanded the 3rd Infantry Brigade in October 1915
before being appointed commander of the 2nd Division Artillery the following
January. Singled out for the disastrous role of the artillery during the
Second Battle of Bullecourt in May 1917, redemption came when he perfected
the art of the protective barrage during operations of the Third Battle of
Ypres from July to October 1917. In November of that year, he asked to be
sent home in protest against Major-General Walter Coxen (Springvale
Necropolis) - his junior - being promoted Corps Artillery Commander during
the re-organisation of the force the previous month designed to reduce the
number of British officers. Mentioned in despatches four times, in March
1918, Johnston was appointed Military Administrator of New Guinea (1918-20)
succeeding Sir Samuel Pethebridge (Box Hill Cemetery). On his return
to Melbourne he resumed his position as managing director of the furnishing
firm “Johnston’s Pty Ltd” (Gertrude Street, Fitzroy) founded by his father and continued his service
with the citizen forces attaining the rank of major-general on his
retirement. Residing at 7 Balaclava Road East St. Kilda, he died at
Epworth Hospital on 23 May 1949 aged 80.
(above) Colonel Johnston
(left) at Gallipoli
(Image courtesy of the
Australian War Memorial,
(above) Former Johnstons store,
Gertrude Street, Fitzroy (2004)
(above) Monumental Headstone (enlarge
ADB Volume 9 1891-1939 (Gil-Las).
The Brisbane Courier 26 February 1902.
The Sydney Morning Herald 4 June 1917, 9
August 1919, 17 March 1920, 15 May 1920 & 16 October 1920.
The Age 24 May 1949.
The Argus 24 May 1949.
AWM “Biographical Cards for the Official
History 1914-18”, AWM140.
Horner, D., “The Gunners. A History of
Australian Artillery” (1995).
Murray, P., “Records of Australian
Contingents to the War in South Africa 1899-1902” (1911).
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